Hurricane Sandy unleashed its wrath on the Northeast, knocking out power to more than 523,000 of PPL Electric Utilities' 1.4 million customers. Dubbed the worst storm in the utility's history, the hurricane affected all 29 Pennsylvania counties served by the utility, and the hardest-hit areas were in the eastern part of the service territory from Bucks and Montgomery counties up through the Lehigh Valley and into the Poconos.

To respond to this storm, the utility assembled its largest storm response workforce to date, bringing in crews from 16 other states, including its Kentucky sister utilities, Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas and Electric. Working together, the linemen replaced 1,813 pole crossarms, 461 poles, 601 transformers and 16,853 insulators, plus more than 100 miles of aerial lines.

Through teamwork, careful planning and access to the latest technology, the linemen were able to restore power to PPL Electric Service's customers in only eight days.

Preparing an Emergency Response Plan

Before stringing new wire, and setting and re-energizing the poles, the linemen had to wait for the storm to pass through the area. Because of the high winds, it was dangerous to have the crews working on power restoration, so the linemen initially covered the 911 and fire calls until they could safely get into the area to rebuild the lines.

The force of the hurricane winds snapped some wood poles, and in other cases, the damage was caused by trees falling on to the lines. Immediately following the hurricane, a lot of the wires were down, and the contract tree crews from Asplundh Tree Expert Co., Penn Line Service and ElectriCom worked alongside the linemen to remove the downed trees.

The utility also focused on assessing the damage caused by the hurricane to the transmission and distribution system. Helicopters flew over certain designated areas that had sustained significant damage, and in-house and contract assessors walked the lines, documented the damage and then reported back what they had found. With so many poles and wires down, it was critical to come up with a material list and then get everything spaced out properly for the crews when they arrived on site.

The utility also had to ensure that its storm center was fully staffed and up and running before the hurricane even hit the region. The storm center, which is located within the Lehigh Service Center, was staffed 24 hours a day and equipped to handle the response to the wide-scale outages and damage to the utility's infrastructure. Through meetings before the storm, PPL Electric Utilities was able to pre-stage the event before it even happened by ramping up the size of its workforce, staging material and reaching out to its counterparts.

Coordinating Crews

Before the hurricane hit, PPL Electric Utilities obtained hotel rooms, and secured food and housing for its contract crews and set up a large staging area for all of its contractors and linemen. Dorney Park, a large amusement park near Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the Wayne County Fairgrounds in northeastern Pennsylvania were temporarily transformed into self-contained camps containing trailers with bunk beds, air conditioners, heaters, laundry facilities and eating areas. Storm Services, a company that had helped other utilities after Hurricane Katrina, was brought in to set up the tent city prior to the hurricane hitting the Northeast.

By stationing the linemen at Dorney Park, PPL Electric Utilities could minimize the time necessary for the crews to travel to the job site. All the materials were staged at this location including the crossarms, cutouts, transformers and poles. Every morning, the contractors could load their trucks up with materials and leave straight from the crew camp to the restoration zone. Because they knew exactly what materials they required for each day's work, PPL Electric Utilities didn't need to transport materials back and forth to the contract crews. As such, there was a much quicker turnaround to get the material to where it needed to be.

PPL Electric Utilities crews also used laptop computers with workforce management software to increase efficiency. The computers, which were mounted in the work trucks, helped to improve the linemen's response to outages and other work requests, streamlined communication with crews in the field, and boosted customer satisfaction.

The laptops could display a map on the circuit, show GPS coordinates and receive messages from the storm center dispatchers. Linemen also could see the estimated restoration times, share this information with the contractors and customers, and guide the crews during the restoration process.